Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nannie Doss: Lonely Hearts Lady Loved Her Man to Death

Doting Grandma?

Nannie had learned to kill. Perhaps she was merely practicing her skills, and at the same time building her nerve, for the big day when Frank Harrelson was to go. She had already, it seemed, disposed of two infant daughters, so killing children had little effect on her. They were extra baggage.

By the early 1940s, the surviving daughters Melvina and Florine had grown and married. Melvina bore a son, Robert, in 1943, and, in February, 1945, went into labor again. This pregnancy was hard on the smallish woman; frightened and suffering wracking pains this time around, she called for her mother to be by her bedside at the local hospital. Melvina's husband, Mosie Haynes, fetched Nannie. Like a good mother, Nannie remained on duty throughout the night, wiping her daughter's scalding forehead and comforting her during the ordeal; she ordered Mosie to fetch continual glasses of water, wet towels, this and that, and to keep the attending nurses and interns stepping lively dusk to dawn. Mosie, of course, didn't complain. And like a good grandmother, Nannie celebrated with her daughter and son-in-law when Melvina produced a lovely little girl.

Within the hour the child died.

Details are sketchy at best. Mosie had fallen asleep on the chair in the hospital room and Melvina, in a state of semi-consciousness from the surgical ether, lay prone in her bed. At one point, she happened to glance over at her mother and the newborn cradled in her arms. But, Melvina perceived what she was never afterwards able to determine as a truth or a nightmare: She thought she saw Nannie sticking a hatpin into the child's tender head.

The "dream" bothered Melvina, especially since the doctors could not account for the child's death. Back at home a few days later, Melvina told her husband and Florine about what she thought she had seen. Her confidantes startled. They had seen Grandma Nannie toying with such a pin, turning it over and over between her fingers, earlier in the evening.

Six months later, Melvina's son Robert also passed away while in Nannie's care. The daughter had gone to stay with her father, Charley Braggs, after a fight with Mosie, leaving Robert with Nannie. How little Robert Lee Haynes died was a mystery. Nannie seemed heartbroken she didn't know what happened the doctors diagnosed his death as "asphyxia" from unknown causes and she played the grieving grandmother right up to the lowering of his tiny coffin graveside. She fainted, she wailed and she blew despair. Then several months later, she collected a $500 life insurance check on a policy she had taken out on the boy.

Having refined her skills, in murder and theatrics, she was now ready to take on the bigger game: Frank Harrelson. She waited for the opportunity and (perhaps to ease her conscience just a little) a provocation.

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